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THE CARRIER

A far weirder-than-average eighties horror fest with a shadowy monster, a deadly epidemic and a large-scale feud.  If nothing else, it’s certainly the only movie I know of whose entire cast spends most of the running time wrapped in plastic! 

The Package
     This fun, darkly comedic Michigan-based 1987 movie has frustrated many horror fans because of its lack of gore (it involves a disease that causes people’s flesh to smoke and char, thus minimizing any potential for the red stuff).  Far more annoying, in my view, are the many dated 80’s elements (a cheesy synthesizer score being the most grievous) and oft-clumsy storytelling.  But for those willing to forgive its deficiencies, the film works.

The Story 
     In a small wilderness town, the traumatized Jake finds himself cast out of a church gathering one night; nobody in the town likes him, as it’s widely believed he killed his parents in a fire.  Wandering out to his special hiding place, a secluded cabin, Jake is attacked by a growling, hairy monster.
     At this point, it seems like we’re in for a traditional monster mash, but the story takes a bizarre turn.  It seems Jake has contacted a disease through contact with the creature, who is never mentioned again.  More to the point, Jake is the carrier of said affliction: anything he touches is contaminated, and anyone who touches the contaminated areas has their flesh charred, as an unfortunate man discovers when he finds a diseased book stuck to his hand.  The guy runs into the crowded town square, and everyone watches in horror as he smokes and dissolves to nothing.
     Mass chaos erupts.  Finger pointing becomes rampant as paranoia infests the townspeople, all of them desperate to find the carrier of the disease.  Everybody wraps himself or herself in plastic (which doesn’t always help) and eventually the town divides into dueling factions that Jake, keeping his culpability a secret, manipulates YOJIMBO like into an all-out war.
     The scattered survivors are called to a town meeting in a church, where the mayor, a friend of Jake’s who knows his secret, declares the carrier of the disease to be a recently deceased man.  Everyone rejoices...until a woman makes the mistake of giving her baby to Jake.  The steam it emits in his arms is immediately recognizable to all, and Jake, his secret revealed, immediately becomes the center of everyone’s attention.  As we’ve already seen, the town’s collective wrath is NOT a pretty sight, and Jake becomes the focal point of it—can you say lynching?  

The Direction
     This is the only movie directed by Nathan J. White (he did, however, produce 1992’s HELLMASTER, another Michigan-based horror movie), and it’s not difficult to discern why.  Much of it, particularly the chaotic first half, is grindingly inept.  The photography is tacky and annoying music cues are used to obnoxiously bolster the scary stuff.
     Luckily, the proceedings are weird enough to hold one’s attention.  The sight of backwoods yokels wrapped in plastic chasing each other through the woods is an arresting one, and far from the film’s only compellingly surreal image (cats stuck to a church wall??).  Perhaps White, who also penned the script, was trying for a real-life allegory here, of AIDS (or something).  In any event, the film, despite its “heavy” subject matter, is breezy and funny throughout, fully aware of how ridiculous it is.  Whatever his ambitions, White was wise in never taking himself, or his film, too seriously. 


Vital Statistics 

THE CARRIER
Swan Productions/Magnum Video

Director: Nathan J. White
Producer: Jeffrey Dougherty
Screenplay: Nathan J. White
Cinematography: Peter Deming
Cast: Gregory Fortescue, Steve Dixon, N. Paul Silverman, Paul Urbanski, Patrick Butler, Stevie Lee, Ron Asheton, Marti Bowling
 


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